Chemical weapons a game-changer on U.S. public opinion on Syria
August 29th, 2013
10:43 AM ET
11 months ago

Chemical weapons a game-changer on U.S. public opinion on Syria

Washington (CNN) - As President Barack Obama weighs launching a military strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, American public opinion over whether the U.S. should get involved appears conflicted.

The most recent national polling over the past few months suggests that most Americans, weary after more than a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, don't favor getting its military involved in the bloody fighting in Syria. But some surveys also indicate that the public feels that Washington would be justified in using military action against Damascus if there was proof the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against their own people.

Sixty-one percent of those questioned in a Quinnipiac survey conducted in late June and early July said that it was not in the national interest for the U.S. to be involved in the war in Syria. And nearly six in 10 said they opposed the U.S. sending military arms or supplies to the rebel forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Those findings were consistent with earlier surveys from Gallup, Pew Research Center, and CBS News/New York Times that were conducted in June.

"In past foreign crises, polls have shown that support for U.S. action changes depending on three things: whether ground troops might become involved, whether the U.S. is acting alone or as part of an international coalition, and whether there is a specific reason to use U.S. force. The reason may be forward-looking or in retaliation for something that already happened, but the public doesn't like writing blank checks," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

But factor in chemical weapons, and public opinion shifts.

In May, a CNN/ORC Poll asked, "If the United States were able to present evidence that convinced you that the Syrian government has chemical weapons and has used them to kill civilians in that country, do you think the U.S. would or would not be justified in using military action against the Syrian government?"

Two thirds of those questioned answered yes, with three in 10 saying no.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll from last December had similar results, with more than six in 10 supporting military action Syria if it used chemical weapons against its people.

The United States has concluded Syria carried out chemical weapons attacks against its people, Obama said Wednesday, a claim that comes amid a looming diplomatic showdown over whether to strike against al-Assad's government.

"We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama told "PBS NewsHour."

"If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about – but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term," the president added.

One limited military option is cruise missile attacks against Syrian government and military targets.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, Americans by a 49%-38% plurality said the U.S. should use weapons that don't risk the lives of American forces, such as cruise missiles or drones, to attack Syrian government targets.

"After the Vietnam war, Americans were much less likely to support the use of U.S. force, a phenomenon often referred to as the Vietnam syndrome," Holland added. "Will Americans suffer from an Iraq syndrome in future conflicts? We may get an answer to that question in the next few weeks."


Filed under: Polls • Syria
soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. Peace

    Please count my voice AGAINST the war. I think most of people are against it too. We heard this drum bit before Bush's war. Enough is enough, war criminals. NO

    August 29, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  2. snowdog

    As usual the United States has to go it alone because the rest of the world is to scared to do anything. Typical. The world does not care that a brutal dictator is killing innocent people.

    August 29, 2013 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  3. scott

    I have talked to a lot of people about bombing Syria. I have not found a single person that agrees we should bomb Syria. I do not believe CNN's poll numbers. This seems to be more American propaganda. We need to organize protests across America against this action.

    August 29, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    I hope and pray that we do not launch any strike to Syria.....America can't be the only protector of the helpless. There are other countries that could help. America need to start taking care of our own. It's unfortunate and sad what is happening in the middle east but these people obviously do not want to evolve and embrace peace. It has been going on for many many years.....time for us to protect and rebuild our country. We cannot police the entire world alone. Our military men and women have sacrificed so much already on this on going war.....more lives to lose. Please President Obama listen to the American people. These countries could be setting us up.....fallen America we become if we do this. May God help and bless us all.

    August 29, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  5. MATTHEW FERRARA

    We need to stop sticking our nose into every other country's business. If there is no threat to the U.S., then stay away. The only thing this type of action will do is get more people in the world to hate us, and we already have too many of those.

    August 29, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  6. dkm

    Funny CNN is saying it's poll reports Americans think we should attack Syria and yet the posts on this board show the exact opposite. Another fake poll by our unbiased media!

    August 29, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  7. Tim

    Poll: "...do you think the U.S. would or would not be..." result: 2/3rds said "yes"

    It's like saying "... do you think the light switch is on or off..." result: 2/3rds say "yes", the other 1/3rd say "shoelace".

    How do you properly answer the poll question?

    August 29, 2013 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  8. SomeGuyInNC

    The only suitable outcome of this civil war, as far as the Obama team is concerned, is a draw, much like that of the Iran-Iraq conflict in the 80s. Neither side had the upper hand, and each practically bled to death. And of course we propped up the loser in each.

    It looks like we're about to do the same in Syria.

    August 29, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  9. NightCrawler

    As others has stated the crimes going on in Syria is troubling to say the least. However if we take action alone that will only strenghten the views of other nations that we are the "Bully", when the UK knows doing this as a nation means that the War in Iraq taught us nothing. During the War in Iraq, it was Bush's "Weapons of Mass Destruction", now today it would be Obama's "Chemical Weapons Use". Have they thought it may be Al Qaeda doing this? They would be the ones most to benefit from us intervening. But as usual the taxpayers get fleesed again.

    August 29, 2013 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  10. don't do it

    Over 100 thousand people have died over the last three years by guns, bombs, and God knows what else. Why now does the President want to go it alone in Syria? This is so strange, I wonder if another scandal is coming out or maybe the lid is about to blow-off one of the ongoing scandals.

    August 29, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  11. SGT_Punchard

    Here we go again! We, USA, are positioned to strike at the military of another mid-east nation. The Russians are opposed to our future actions, and we are going in alone, albeit the French providing help. AHEM. It's my opinion that the United States should not strike alone. It would be nice to have the support of other nations. The British have already voted not to assist. If we do strike, then it needs to be more SHOCK and AWE! Make the Syrian Military think twice about the use of further chemical weapons use!

    August 29, 2013 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  12. Pedro9990

    Stay out of it, It's none of our Business

    August 29, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  13. Marty

    I have not read the previous posts and for that I apologize. The demise of a country as great as ours is to be – the supreme overseer of all world crises. We are doing this at the cost of our country. What is going on is wrong -very wrong. But being the moderator of the worlds wrong doing is not the US responsibility. Where is the UN and the responsibility of other countries?

    Economically -other countries are NOT stepping in because 1) they know we will, 2) they cannot afford it, 3) they want us to economically implode.

    We are imploding -saving the world is not what US citizens signed up for. We are in crises and if all of us do not wake up and see our down fall we are in trouble.

    Wrong things are going on in Syria -very wrong- it is more than our problem. We are in trouble at home and if we DO THIS – our country is at risk for demise.

    August 29, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  14. red

    What percent of Americans perceive that showing restraint is more of a legitimate response than showing how easy it is to force our hand? The propaganda is alarming for sure but risk vs reward seems outweighed.

    August 29, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  15. Dave

    Think Barry dont talked himself into a box, now has to put up or shut up. If his plan goes anything like the economy, the missles will cost ten times more than planned, damage the ships they are launched from, and end up landing on isreal instead.

    August 29, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  16. SolidGop

    Where are the ANTI-WAR liberals that cannot stand cowboy presidents?

    Oh, sorry, forgot, it's now THEIR PRESIDENT in charge, so Americans coming home in body bags is now JUST FINE with them.

    August 29, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  17. Aarky

    This writer is a shill for the neo con war hawks. So chemical weapons means we are justified to fire cruise missiles at Syria as a moral or humanitarian intervention? Cruise missiles are not humanitarian or moral; they kill people. The US would be best served by sending medical supplies to Syria and to the countries that now have hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians living in tents and more on the way because of fear of missile strikes by the US.

    August 29, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  18. MARY

    Dominican mama 4 Obama, I agree w/most of what you've stated. While chemical weapons used against a population is deplorable, why is wholesale slaughter of many more in sub-saharan Africa not as important? We simply cannot police the world and as bad as Assad may be, Bashir, Mugabe, et al. are just as bad if not worse. Mr. President, please DO NOT involve us in yet another war, whether by strikes or boots on the ground – NO MORE WARS!

    August 29, 2013 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  19. texus

    US of A should stay out of Syria. It is none of our business to mediate a fight between AlQueda affiliate Sunni terrorists and the larger population led by Assad. Don't want to see Syria end up like Egypt or Iraq...

    August 29, 2013 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  20. tshimelis

    sofar,no mention about rebel side : are they true democratic rebel or bunch of fanatic islam terrorist fighting to estabilish extreme government which is worst than dictator.Is USA try to help al-qaida in other way. Then go head once al-qaid formed as government in Syria you will have big issue. Do not learn from history9 Egypt,Irak,Libya)' As soon as Assad over thrown al-qaida come in and kill very remaining Christian there.

    August 29, 2013 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  21. Montana

    Why does the use of chemical weapons dictate the US should get involved in a CIVIL WAR. Why now, over 100,000 have been killed since this started, why intervene now? This is a civil war and there is no good side to be on, let them fight it out and we should stay out of it. Obama is rattling his plastic sword and the Russians nor the Iranians give him any credibility...Obama is a paper tiger with no guts and has displayed no leadership at home or abroad. I personally don't want him getting into a fight with the Russians...he is not the leader to lead us in a major conflict. Stay out of Syria! They hate us anyway!

    August 29, 2013 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  22. anonymous

    The sooner we let the Arabs "have" each other the sooner we will have a "kind" of peace here. As soon as we leave our second lost war in Afghanistan, the warlords will locks turbans and our investment in blood and treasure will be as it was in Vietnam and Iraq: pure waste. My sense is that this president is sailing a rudderless ship of state.

    August 30, 2013 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  23. Kyle

    Hell no we shouldn't go. We are not the world police and I be damned if we are going to fight along side AL-QAEDA!!!!

    August 30, 2013 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  24. billtowner

    Funny that I just attended a taping with about 8,000 NPR listeners. Not a voice in the house supported a strike on Syria, and this was a massive bunch of Obama supporters. I think CNN is trying to spin the polls in favor of their favorite son, Obama.

    August 30, 2013 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  25. GB

    Those who died from the chemicals are dead. Sad reality. Why risk a major conflict? Obama is not a decisive leader. I believe he'd get us into a mess.

    August 30, 2013 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
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